Finalist, 2022 International Book Awards – Fiction – Short Story
Finalist, 2021 American Book Fest Best Book Awards – Fiction – Short Story
The characters in Pigeon Soup & Other Stories are navigating relationships and grappling with issues of translocation, language and identity, religion and culture, and food. These tales portray the dark places they inhabit physically, emotionally, or metaphorically, with twists that sometimes provide a flicker—or even a bright beam—of hope.
“Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli’s stories interweave themes and recurring characters into a marvelous tapestry of cultural expression and cultural dissonance. She negotiates these byways with warmth, insight, and a true mastery of narrative ellipsis. Although she never flinches from darkness and tragedy, the generosity of spirit in this work will, for the reader, act like a balm for a troubled age.”
—Paul Butler, author of Mina’s Child and The Widow’s Fire
“These stories have an intriguing and child-like gaze that also turn a spotlight into some very dark corners— high-school bullying, sexual abuse, and childhood trauma. Notwithstanding the bones in the broth that threaten to choke, this collection is pigeon soup for the soul that rewards its reader. It may be the wonderment, the ultimate resilience or pushback of some of its characters. Whatever the ingredients, hats off to a brave Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli for making us Pigeon Soup.”
—Darlene Madott, award-winning author of Making Olives and Other Family Secrets
“Reading Pigeon Soup is like being spirited into a chiaroscuro small town, receiving a gift of sight that reveals all hidden shames and unseen heroism. Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli sees into the heart of a fraught and beautiful heritage, and draws the reader in with great love to enjoy the aching, funny, proud, devastating, and delicious experience of being Italian American.”
—Donna Lee Miele, contributing writer, VIA: Voices in Italian Americana
“An exquisitely crafted, engaging and lively collection of novelle, Pigeon Soup & Other Stories, similarly to the sumptuous Mediterranean dishes seductively garnishing its pages, serves us a reading to be savoured, much like anything that is fine in life. Woven into a realist framework of old-country customs and new-world expectations, the narrative’s interlacing strands of solid plot, sound psychological character study, and language and identity issues deploy an intense literary glow that caresses our sensibilities. Refreshingly innovative, too, the other side of the coin: the stories are not exclusive to one culture. And so, having enjoyed Nonna’s “comforting bowl” of free-run unadulterated pigeon soup we find ourselves invited across the street (that is, across the page) to a “delicious bowl of Lipton’s chicken soup.” Ah, the joys of a pleasurable text, as Barthes would say.”
—Gabriel Niccoli, Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo. editor of Ricordi: Racconti di vite oltreoceano and Patterns of Nostos in Italian Canadian Narratives
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Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli was born in Calabria, Italy, and immigrated to Canada with her family at three years of age. She is a professional member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association, the Association of Italian-Canadian Writers, Toronto Romance Writers and CANSCAIP. An alumna of the Humber School for Writers, Rosanna has been published in nineteen anthologies and journals. She has read at conferences and literary events in Sudbury, Parry Sound, Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie, Manitoulin Island, Winnipeg, Montreal, Vancouver, New York City, and Italy. Rosanna’s novel La Brigantessa (Inanna Publications, 2018) was awarded Gold for Historical Fiction in the 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards and she received her gold medal at the IPPY Awards in New York City in May 2019. La Brigantessa was a finalist for the 2019 Canadian Authors Association Fred Kerner Book Award and the Northern Lit Award. It won a 2019 International Book Award for Best Cover Design, and The Miramichi Reader’s “The Very Best!” Book Award in 2019 for Best Cover Art (designed by Val Fullard). Rosanna has been guest author at book club meetings, literary events, and reading series. Along with writing historical fiction, short fiction, and creative non-fiction, she has had five romance novels published with Harlequin and two children’s books published with Pajama Press. Pigeon Soup & Other Stories was released by Inanna in June 2021.
The Hawk (excerpt)
Your mother sometimes scolded her mother, your nonna, for telling you old-fashioned stories from the old country. She would tell you tales of zingari and u babau, gypsies and the boogeyman, who would gleefully snatch you if you wandered too far or disobeyed your parents, and then raise you as their own. As a preschooler, you became terrified at the slightest indication of your parents’ escalating anger, even if it had nothing to do with you. Somehow, their raised voices, hands attacking the air, faces puckered in frowns or eyes hardened in accusation, made you believe it was something you said or did that had caused their ire, and you always sought a safe haven in the arms of your nonna.
Nonna would provide you with a comforting bowl of broth, or a panino streaked with giardiniera and stuffed with mortadella and provolone, while telling you stories that she had grown up with. Her tales simultaneously entertained and frightened you, making the hair on your arms stand up. But strangely enough, you always begged her for “one more story.” It was almost as if you had this insatiable hunger for tales of wicked children being entranced by bejewelled gypsies, who would lure them into bright caravans filled with other captives and lead them far away from their homes. Or of a big hulking boogeyman hovering in the shadows, waiting to terrorize a child.
One of the stories you kept asking for was the one about il falco, the Hawk. Your nonna would get a gleam in her eye, set you in her lap, and wrap her black shawl around you both before lowering her voice to almost a whisper.
The Hawk was the size of a man, she said. A hulk of a creature that heralded ill luck or even, at the very worst, a death in her village in the old country. It was both feared and admired. Feared for its craftiness, its stealth, its predatory instincts. Admired for its effortless grace while gliding, its regal bearing in stillness, the immensity of its wingspan. It came out at night, hovering over rooftops, its curved claws scratching the shingles of the dwelling it chose to rest upon. The occupants, trembling at the implication of its arrival, would venture quietly outside to catch a glimpse of the Hawk. They found themselves struck speechless at the creature in the moonlight, its sleek wings draped around it like a signora’s fashionable cape.
When you were nine, you heard your last story from your nonna, who passed quietly in the night. The days, weeks, and months afterwards are still foggy to you, but the stories she told you never faded in your memory. They came to you when you least expected them, like a hawk in the night.
Then, one night, you caught sight of it.
You saw it swoop across your bedroom window, and in your pajamas, you tiptoed across the linoleum floor and went outside for a better look.
For a moment you felt awe as you stared at its statue-like form, but when you took in a breath, it swivelled its head to pierce you with a gaze icier than death. It saw you there in your yard, near an oak tree behind which you had instinctively sequestered yourself. You didn’t hesitate to see what it would do; you had no intention of being attacked by that menacing creature. You imagined its sickle of a beak slicing into your eyes, as it had apparently done to a cocky observer in Nonna’s village. No, you didn’t wait for its claws to disengage from the time-weathered shingles, sending some of them clattering to the ground, before priming itself for flight, directly toward you.
Horror-stricken—you had recently seen Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at a friend’s house—you willed your body into motion. The expanse of lawn between the back door and the oak tree that protected you seemed a mile long now, with that black hulk in the air, batting its glistening wings. You willed your leaden feet to lift, to propel you to the safety of the porch, but the warrior cry it emitted flew inside the cavity of your chest, chilling your heart and the blood in your veins. You feared for your life, then; you wished you could take back your brazen belief that you could share space with the Hawk and not pay the price.
Inanna Admin –
Pigeon Soup & Other Stories by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
reviewed by Patricia Sandberg
The Miramichi Reader – September 9, 2021
Pigeon Soup & Other Stories, published by Inanna Publications and Education Inc., opens with a quotation from Charlotte Brontë: “The shadows are as important as the light.”
Author Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli adopts this phrase as a guide as she dishes up plenty of shadows including cultural and generational differences, gender expectations for women, and the experiences of Italian immigrants far from their homeland. Add in narratives relating to racism, bullying and sexual abuse familiar to all, regardless of background, and you might think the book would be a difficult read. But the author often lightens the dark themes with humour, optimism, acceptance and understanding.
Ms. Battigelli’s Italian heritage plays a significant role in the stories. And as you might guess from the title, she offers a culinary and olfactory feast that includes such delicacies as pigeon meat, sausage, and blood pudding. Throughout the book, food binds people together, heals wounds and comforts.
Characters are deftly described. In the eponymous story “Pigeon Soup,” the cabbie takes two travellers on a wild ride. A string of red peppers hangs from the rear-view mirror, and his grin exposes nicotine-stained teeth and one gold cap. To one of the passengers, the driver smells like “the shot his grandmother usually put in her morning espresso per rinforzare il cuore––to strengthen the heart.
In “Black as Tar,” a young boy notices the new kid across the newly tarred road. “He sat in between his mother’s potted geraniums like a garden gnome ornament: knees up to his chin, pixy face in his hands, a glazed look on his face and his mouth half-open.”
In “Francesca’s Ways,” the complexities of family relationships play out over an afternoon of sausage making. A young woman (Angie) steps in to help her mother Francesca make sausages, replacing her deceased father who used to fulfill this role. When Angie doesn’t fill the sausages like her father once did, she draws her mother’s ire. Francesca criticizes her daughter’s life decisions, and the daughter bristles even as she notes signs of her mother’s ageing. Like tying off the ends of the sausages, Angie works toward a subtle reconciliation:
“Angie watched as her mother placed the last sausage link on the table. For how many years had those hands performed this ritual? Forty, maybe fifty, first with her grandparents and parents, then with her husband. Now, even with the latter gone, Francesca still clung to the traditions. Perhaps they brought her solace, Angie thought, forgetting the criticisms and harsh words uttered earlier and feeling sorry for the lonely, embittered woman across from her.”
Many of the stories reflect childhood memories or are told from a child’s perspective, and the reader acutely feels the character’s pain. Ms. Battigelli adroitly tempers this reaction, however, as her characters find hope, generosity, and resilience. And like the pigeon soup that offers healing (and sometimes bones on which to choke), grandmother Nonna’s shawl wraps those who suffer.
Inanna Admin –
Pigeon Soup & Other Stories by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
reviewed by ireadsomewherethat – September 25, 2021
Poignant and beautifully crafted, this collection startles with unexpected revelations and transports you to other worlds and into the hearts of the brokenhearted and the resilient.
Inanna Admin –
Yearning for Hopeful Resolutions: A Review of Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli’s Pigeon Soup & Other Stories
reviewed by Angelo Sgabellone
Accenti Magazine – December 14, 2021
Since the first acts of creation the roots of civilization have been grounded in the human narrative as “storytelling” and its ability to evidence experience, implicit and explicit, to explain life’s emotive conditions. Such empathy pushed our belief systems to higher levels of consciousness. These insights of our earlier Palaeolithic uncertainties have influenced our imagination to give primal foundation as religion, language and art, which humanize cultural development. Such specialization helped evolve behavioural transitions then moulded (iconic) symbols and oral storytelling into aesthetic modes. This notion of collective awakening became the essence of who we are and as such is at the heart of the intrinsic art of Sudbury author Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli.
In Micelotta Battigelli’s latest book, Pigeon Soup & Other Stories (Inanna 2021), we discover the singular sensitivity of such social norms and universal truths. Her creative dexterity between diametrical emotion and semi-biographical narrative, guides her vision and wills subjects through a series of imaginative testaments that root her rustic Italian-Canadian essence. The author builds these perceptive fields with layers of allegorical intrigue and diametrical allusions of broken souls yearning for hopeful resolutions.
According to Roland Barthes, short stories are a form of “semiological postulation” – literary forms of artistic relationships between a signifier and signified. This interrelationship belongs to the interplay of the “communication process.” In other words, the artist is at liberty to formalize “qualities” of life and share their sense of “equivalence of existence.” Therefore the artist’s insight looks to a higher degree of awareness. This state elevates the existential proficiency of a reader’s cognitive ability to formalize a “story” and its meaning. In Micelotta Battigelli’s case, the creative experience becomes an act of “inter-relational discovery” that endears subjective notions to live beyond aesthetic meaning.
The Italian linguist Umberto Eco suggests in Serendipity, Language and Lunacy, when different cultures meet, the result becomes a “reciprocal diversity” with three possibilities. The first is Conquest or an inability to accept different cultures as “barbarian effect.” Second, Cultural Pillage, when members of one culture recognize, but subjugate into new cultures, much like the Greeks absorbed Egyptian culture. Lastly, Exchange, similar to the influence Jesuits had on Marco Polo’s adventures when they brought eco/cultural growth into Asian diametrics, fusing evocative characterization with diverse story lines.
History tells us, the migratory aesthetics of writers such as: T.S. Elliot, Joseph Conrad and Thomas Wolfe were imbedded within multi-layers of ethereal imaginative schisms that polarized the variance of light/shade as “fear and loathing.” This permeated primordial Neolithic imagination into Jungian notions of chiaroscuro instincts as temporal sfumato springboards used as primal “logos” of symbolic influence.
These ethereal notions are at the heart of Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli’s enchanted tales of Northern Ontario influence. At the age of three she became endeared to search for creative meaning, in diverse cultures. Then she discovered the love of writing as a principal “home base” which shaped her craft into a magical tapestry of wonder and inter-relational identity. Her journey from the village of Camini in Italy to Canada moulded her curiosity similar to the great 19th century ships that travelled to America, searching for the virtue of hopeful transitions as pivotal axis.
Micelotta Battigelli’s Pigeon Soup & Other Stories offers seemingly effusive subjugation in eight enchanting offerings. Her voice becomes a blended echo, mixed with the diverse uncertainty and grace of personal human struggles. The stories are measured accounts of rustic neo-Calabrian dissonance elevating the intense spiritual forces of subconscious open fields that colour their tempered harshness and burst into sparks like a rustic cavalleria of song and hopeful substance.
This transmutation of subjective text and storytelling, in eight erudite adventures, spices and folds colourful effect as atmospheric ethical affliction that tears the tipsy superstitions of Santo, a Calabrian taxi driver in Pigeon Soup. Micelotta Battigelli then introduces us to the laboured shame of youthful ridicule in “Alligator Shoes.” Here harsh conditions are ritualized through the empathetic Angie and her doting mother Francesca as they face the tedious task of making sausage (salsicce) in “Francesca’s Way” where mother and daughter struggle with indifference, heartbreak and adjustment to an altered set of cultural values. This sanctity of silence and indiscretions springs us into a sense of cynicism in “This Too Shall Pass,” where the protagonist Angelo struggles with the lurid silence of breached sanctity and parental misgivings ruptured by the conditions of predatory faith. This drifts us into the grandmotherly (nonna’s) Greco-Calabrian brooding with the idiomatic superstitions of a young child’s haunting fascination with death and absence in “The Hawk.” The primal phantoms of winged terror fascinate with (zingari) gypsies and (u babau) boogeymen. This selfless contradiction and ritual shifts deeply into “Veiled Intentions” and its cruel dangling of ethereal lessons, followed by the racial inevitability and drunken coming of age of Frank and Vic during the FLQ murders in Quebec’s eclectic 1970s that leave both helpless in “Degrees of Separation.” Micelotta Battigelli closes her fascinating series with the re-setting of religious prejudice between families who, in “Black as Tar,” navigate the norms of selfless contradictions and diverse humility as a redeeming act of grace and acceptance. She writes, “The characters in this collection are embroiled in situations that test their limits …. They are navigating relationships and grappling with issues of translocation, language and identity, religion and culture, and food.”
Like our ancient Palaeolithic ancestors, Micelotta Battigelli understands the primal act of storytelling. She weaves her Ionian tapestry into a Jungian notion of harnessed light pushing its lurid obsessions of fluid mysteries that originally shaped her creative foresights. This harsh condition and localized “wants and fears” inevitably fascinate beyond selfless limitations and personal identity. For many Italian-Canadian writers, this also sets physical and spiritual bridges that nudge the need of transformative allegory to encapsulate the essence of personal knowledge as a serious act of art. Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli is a pivotal writer you must read.
Inanna Admin –
Pigeon Soup & Other Stories by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
reviewed by Julisa Lisella
MER – Mom Egg Review – June 29, 2022
Pigeon Soup and Other Stories is a slim volume of interconnected short stories set in the 1970s in Canada that gives us a glimpse into the first-generation post-WWII Italian immigrants and their second-generation Canadian children. As in most immigrant families, the “Old World” and the “New World” do battle as the older generation seeks to understand the younger assimilated generation. Sometimes generations are blind to each other’s challenges and needs, and at other times these characters understand each other silently and completely. Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli, the author of several children’s books, romance novels and the historical novel, La Brigantessa (Inanna Publications 2018, and an IPPY Award Gold Medalist for Historical Fiction), adeptly handles the short story form, drawing out both the slight moments of recognition and the larger traumatic confrontations with precision, warmth, and a clear eye. The collection was recently named a finalist in the 2022 International Book Awards, Short Story, and the 2021 American Book Fest Best Book Awards for short fiction.
The story “Francesca’s Ways” demonstrates the quiet effectiveness of Battigelli’s story telling. In it, she creates full-blooded characters with a few brief strokes of detail and dialogue. The mother and her grown daughter are making fresh sausages, a task that usually fell to the father of the family. The daughter, Angie, is the second-generation divorced adult child. Francesca, the first-generation mother, we learn, is newly widowed. As Angie observes, her mother’s heart “is still in L’Italia Bella.” She disapproves of her daughter’s modern Canadian choices, while her daughter marvels at her mother’s ability to remain the stern taskmaster of Old-World traditions. Though Angie is dying to escape her mother’s disapproval, she looks down and realizes Francesca is wearing an old pair of the deceased father’s slippers. She suddenly understands why Francesca has started the old conversation about Angie’s divorce: her parents had had a happy marriage and her mother is still in mourning. As the title of the collection suggests, foodways represent the language of union and understanding as well as in some of the stories here, the language of difference. The mother’s truce to the daughter, a cup of minestrone “like nonna used to make for you” acts as declaration of their unflappable connection.
The collection delves into other issues of contemporary life as well, but Battigelli never suggests it’s an easy negotiation or that there will be a happy resolution. “This Too Shall Pass,” is a brave and well-told story narrated from the point of view of college-age Angelo Leone. On a return home from college, he confronts the abuser of his high school years, Father Joel, who has been welcomed into the family home by Angelo’s well-meaning Catholic parents. The triumph of this story is that it remains within the perspective of the troubled Angelo and operates completely within the parameters of what would have been understood in the 1970s about pedophilia. No one gets their due in this story, and we learn by the end that the offending priest dies without his terrible secret being publicly exposed. Without getting preachy or prophetic, the story illustrates how the mores of the time allowed the abuse to continue in plain sight.
“Alligator Shoes” is a heartbreaking fable of the psychological tolls faced by newly arrived families desperate to fit in. In just a few pages, Battigelli sketches out the chilling aftermath of the initially “harmless” teasing of a young girl’s “shiny, faux alligator look” shoes, a gift from her aunt, straight from Italy. The tale blooms into tragedy for Sina, and for those who come into contact with her bully years later.
In the final story, “Black as Tar,” perspectives shift and we get a glimpse of how an “Eye-talian” immigrant woman is perceived by her neighbors, the flurry of gossip that surrounds her, and the ways in which characters can grow and learn from each other, despite their cultural differences. Altogether, Pigeon Soup & Other Stories resists sentimentalizing or romanticizing the Italian Canadian characters or the immigrant experience. Battigelli offers us a glimpse of 1970s culture when the language surrounding some of the traumas she describes have just begun to shake our foundations, and she offers us stories and characters who defend themselves as best they can through family ties and at times, despite them.